Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down

Japanese good quality. No doubt the quality of products that Japan exports to the US, Europe, and other major markets is very high. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said about its domestic products or services, a prime example being housing.

In our apartment, which rents for very high rate---even for Tokyo---there is little insulation. Water pipes are bare, as is common in Japan. (Even in Toyama where there is actually a winter with occasional temps below freezing, insulation was lacking.) We know that many of the building standards and codes in Japan are routinely ignored in order to save a few yen. As the scandal last year showed, this includes earthquake standards.

Heating systems? AHAHA. A joke. Space heaters are still common. One of the most common means of heating and cooling in apartments is a combination A/C and heater. This thing is located just below the ceiling so that much of the heat is wasted above one's head.

Last year, some of the manufacturers of siding an insulation were found to have been faking fire-resistance data. Much of this material had been used in schools. Now we find that:

A total of 529 houses in five western prefectures built by First Juken Co. of Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, were found to have defects such as walls lacking the strength to withstand earthquakes or wind... Read more from the Japan Times here.

And one can bet that this is barely the tip of the iceberg, just like the number of buildings built in Tokyo which do not adhere to earthquake standards.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Using the JLPT to test Japanese ability?

As the government has been playing with introducing some Japanese requirements for various visas, I have wondered if they would be so poorly informed and so braindead as to use something like the Japanese Language Proficiency Test to "measure" Japanese ability.

Apparently, they will be so poorly informed and braindead, but what do you expect given the backwards state of English language education in Japan? Why would these old men do anything different for the Japanese language?

JLPT does not measure communicative ability. It measures selected kanji, vocabulary, grammar knowledge (Folks familiar with SLA will note the use of the word "knowledge" as related to "learning"), reading comprehension skills, as well as the ability to eavesdrop on native speakers having somewhat bizarre conversations using perfect textbook language, but provide no direct evaluation of the ability to use the language. It also tests reading comprehension skills in the traditional way. The basic rule for any test is "Test what is being tested." JLPT fails if the point is to test communicative ability.

Imagine the opportunity for "schools" with all sorts of gimmicky, nonsensical "methods" (for example) to open and teach the "tricks" for passing the JLPT. Perhaps then non-Japanese will become as obsessed with near meaningless test scores. We can compare our numbers and feel superior to those with fewer points. It's much more comfortable that way, because we won't have to show we can't speak at the level the numbers suggest.

I have my visa and needn't worry about these tests. If I did, I would prefer to continue to study Japanese in an effective way, not waste time memorizing irrelevant vocabulary lists and arcane grammar rules. One results in actual improvement, the other hours of mind-numbing toil for limited improvement. But if this proposal becomes law, others will have to study what the government tells them to study.

Japan Times has an article about introducing this requirement to reduce the amount of work experience in specialties such as engineering needed before obtaining a resident (?) visa. Article here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It seems that I have been getting more and more information from other blogs in Japan recently because they seem to have much better information than anything in the press. The author of the blog Shisaku has a post on something that I completely missed. Naturally, the Japanese and Western MSM completely missed it. This would be understandable on the part of Japan's media as it is part of the problem in this post. And there ain't nobody gonna in that group gonna take any big risks exposing the governments little plots.

Anyway, on the news over the last few days, there have been reports about how the police made their very first arrest in Japan for writing a computer virus. Since making a virus is not illegal here, they instead charged him with violations of the copyright law since he used copyrighted animations to spread the virus. (Yes, it is quite hilarious that the copyright law is being enforced. Maybe I should tell about my experience with the flagrant violation of copyright law by a company I once worked for and how the Japanese government did nothing once they learned of it.)

I won't go into detail about the post on Shisaku as you can read it in it's entirety . He connects a just began ad campaign about checking computers for anti-virus with the creative arrest. See Shisaku here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Japan no longer a first-class economy

according to Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Hiroko Ota recently. Ever wonder why the country which views non-Japanese investment as a danger and passes laws willy-nilly to avoid that? The country in which after an Australian firm acquired 20% of Hanada airport changed its laws to prevent non-Japanese from owning more than a magical 15%. The country which loves foreign money as long as there is no foreign control or competition connected to the money,. The country which sees no hypocrisy in selling its products overseas and expecting no barriers, but which whines, complains, plays the victim, and resists every step of the way when overseas companies try to do the same here.

Japan Economy and News Blog has a post: Japan’s leadership searching for excuses for the Nikkei’s drop, and waiting for instructions concerning some of the possible reasons for Japan's economic problems with the outside world including the loss of interest in Japan by foreign investors and how the problems are much more of Japan's own making than as a result of the US sub-prime crisis. It also gives you and idea of how the never-never land that the elites in the government live in. Perhaps if things continue this way, (with Koizumi's limited reforms being undone and Japan continuing its old tradition of being in the world, but not of it) the Neo-bushidoist, quasi-Hobbesian Fujiwara Masahiko will get his retro-fantasy partially fulfilled.

Fingerprinting already a dead issue?

I suspect all the protests will lead to nothing. And it does not seem to deter visitors as long as the yen is weak. Hasn't hurt the US.

Weak yen will trump prints row for tourists: JapanTimesOnline

Friday, January 18, 2008

The beginning of the end of free speech online?

The government is here to help and protect us (well, not me since I am not Japanese, so who cares) yet again by regulating the Internet.

Where the report classifies the content of Web services, however, serious concerns arise. Under the title of "kozensei" ("content that has openness"), for example, a wide range of currently unregulated services become eligible for forced content correction or removal. Blogs, Web pages, and bulletin- board services such as popular Japanese forum 2-Channel all appear to fall in this group.

[A Japanese blogger]: "This is a country where people have been detained for days just for distributing flyers," he says. "If citizens are robbed of their freedom on the Internet, then there is a risk that they will lose their capacity to make political choices." Full story here.

It's ok, it is for security. Besides other countries like China do it too, so nobody can criticize Japan.

Innocent Japan suffers more abuse

from evil foreigners---the US in particular.

A few days ago, Merill Lynch announced that several companies, including Japan's Mizuho bank, were investing around $6 billion in its stock. I learned from one of my young right-leaning contacts, that this was, in his opinion, due to pressure on Japan from the US government to buy stock in companies which were suffering from the sub-prime mess. He had read that a few months ago. He couldn't recall the source, but he is a fan of Sankei Sports, a rightwing paper. I am often amazed at how he can blame the US for any and everything he believes wrong with Japan. If pressed for details or rational, he ducks with "I don't know" or "He (the writer) didn't say."

For example:

-Japans recent food scandals were partially the result of the US and Europe FORCING pure Japan to replace its "produced on" labels with "use by." This change somehow caused the pure Japanese food companies to engage in lies, deception, and fraud.

-According to one of the nutjobs he reads, if Japan were to be attacked, the US would violate the security treaty it has with Japan and do nothing but defend itself. Strangely, this seems be the reverse of the actual treaty in which the US is obligated to send its young men and women to be killed defending Japan, but Japanese young men and women in the military are under no obligation to assist the US in defense of Japan. (In fact, they would be prohibited from assisting in combat or combat rescue---no collective action). He could not explain how the US could defend itself at Yokota air base without defending Tokyo.

-Just before he explained how Mizuho was probably being forced to buy ML stock, he told how the Japanese government had to protect the purity of Japan by restricting non-Yamato ownership of airports to no more than 15%. You see, some sneaky Australian company bought a 20% share of Haneda airport. I did not think to ask him if perhaps the Japanese government had forced the Australian company to buy into Haneda. (Article on this purchase here.)

Wareware nihonjin. Omae wa baka gaijin.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Japanese language for work visa holders

I can't figure out exact who the recently proposed language requirements would cover, work visa holders or long-term residents. I checked a short Nikkei article which I got from Shisaku and I understand it as long-term visa holders (residents?). However, my translating ability is not up-to-par, so maybe I will have to take special grammar, kanji, vocab, listening, and reading classes to prepare for nonsensical government tests. (English articles that I have seen on this subject are even less clear and are often contradictory.)

Anyone who has studied much for the JLPT tests sooner or later figures out that like most of these tests which do not test speaking, they are of limited value and can give distorted impression of language skills. Anyone ever talked to someone with 800 level scores on TOEIC who can't actually speak a half dozen words of comprehensible English? I have. More than one. I am sure most have also spoken to people with relatively low scores who can speak fairly well.

A few years ago there was an article in one of the papers written by a guy who had taken the Level 2 test and noted that some of the folks taking it could not even ask directions to the test room in proper Japanese.

Now imagine a government-designed test which like many tests here will check memorization skills, the ability to torture ones' self for long periods for no practical reason other than to pass a test---a test which tests for some trivial nonsense which may have nothing to do with what is supposedly being tested for. And think of the profits that schools and publishers of test prep books may get.* Of course they could shock the hell out of the planet and come up with a realistic test for the ability to actually use the language. This would be a first in Japan, though perhaps the BJT is close for business Japanese.

I have always liked the listening parts where you are tested in your ability to eavesdrop on two or more people talking about such things as the color of the dog over there either on or under the table by the tree (lower level, 3 and maybe 4) or a bird that has become tangled up in fishing line and is hanging from an electric line (level 2).

I find that kind of stuff very useful in real life. The main benefit of the tests for me was for motivation to study. To actually improve required a lot more, including classes focused on communication, and reading. Since there is little decent reading material for Japanese learners, I gave up and just pick an area that interests me and buy magazines on the subject and read them. It is a much better way to learn kanji and improve grammar and vocabulary than memorizing it out of context. I no longer spend time studying for JLPT because it just ain't as effective and I have no further interest in it. Besides, the last time they tried to send me 1 1/2 hours away to take the test when there were locations within 30 minutes of my home.

*If it is for work visa holders, I suspect that the profits would be pretty poor. Who in their right mind would spend the time and money necessary to learn Japanese at some practical level before coming to work here for a year? IT professionals? Why? Plenty of work elsewhere. Eikaiwa teachers? Hardly (This fact may make a few teachers happy as they think it will reduce competition.) Laborers? Where would they get the money? I'll bet that if it serves to reduce the number of people coming to Japan, it would make a significant number of folks in the government and elsewhere very happy.

Right-wing fantasies in Japan

Tobias Harris (Observing Japan) has written an interesting piece on the mindset of some of the "conservatives" in the LDP.

Based on his reading of an interview with three right-wing LDP members in the Japanese magazine Voice, he notes:
  • This group believes that there was nothing wrong with Abe and that his attempt to move the country much further to the right.*
  • Fukuda is making a big mistake by not pressing on with Abe's constitutional reforms.
  • And of course the Chinese influence on the US government.
There is much more to read here.

I don't know to what extent the Japanese public agrees or disagrees with Abe's and his fellow nutjobs' basic views. It seems more of a case of them finding those views to be at the bottom of their list of priorities. The test, in my opinion, is who is consistently elected and re-elected.

*The "right" or "conservatism" in Japan is much different than conservative politics in the US. Perhaps as different as the American left and Castro's "left," though I suppose in the polarized US political debate, the left would be more than happy to claim that both country's conservatives are the same.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Improving the image of Japan's whalers

Although Japan is legally hunting* whales---or shall we say researching whales---and there is an argument to be made that the main whales being "researched" and killed are not endangered (minke), Japan seems to have been doing its best recently to give the impression that it will do what ever it wants to get its way in whaling. No matter the evidence one way or another, Japan looked pretty bad everywhere except in its own eyes.

Today, the extremist group known as Sea Shepard Conservation Society helped improve that image. Two of them illegally forced their way onto a whaling vessel and were restrained by the crew. Reports and film also show what are said to be bottles of acid** thrown on the ship by these fine folks. The crew restrained the apparent eco-terrorists and held them for a short while. The Sea Shepards then accused the Japanese crew of being terrorists.

Sea Shepard has a record of this type of activity. They have admitted to sinking whalers while in dock, ramming ships and fishing vessels and more. This is what makes me uncomfortable with trusting some of the opposition to whaling. No, endangered species should not be hunted unless there was some rare, short-term reason that would do no lasting harm to the population, but if some hunting can be conducted without harming the species, I don't see the problem. Sorry, I am not an animal rights extremist nor an anti-hunter. I have long believed that Japan might have a case for some limited, sustainable hunting but it also has the world's most ignorant, incompetent, inwardly-focused public relations in this area. It seems more focused on convincing Japanese of Japan's rightiousness and victimhood than of convincing the outside world.

Read more here or google for info on this and Sea Shepard/Paul Watson.

* Actually, this may be questionable as Japan seems to claim it is not hunting, but doing research which results in the death of hundreds of whales and the sale (and reported waste) of the meat. Why claim "research" if hunting is legal? 18 January.

**Sea Shepard claims that the acid was foul-smelling, but harmless. Perhaps one of the members should drink a bottle of it to provide graphic proof.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Where's Mikey Moore Part 2

Punish the patient, kill him if need be to get back at hospital which violated the government's rules:

The 60-year-old had been undergoing the LAK treatment — which was not covered by his public health insurance policy — since September 2001 when it was found that his cancer had spread to some bones in his head and cervical vertebra.

The center told him his LAK therapy must be stopped because a weekly magazine had carried an article alleging the facility practiced "kongo shinryo"[combined insured and uninsured treatment] for another LAK therapy patient....

....public health insurance coverage is denied for insurance-eligible diagnoses, drugs, surgeries, other procedures and hospital costs when a patient simultaneously receives uninsured treatment, which is often expensive. Read more.

Thank goodness that we have strengthened gun laws

An 18-year-old was arrested Thursday after his mother and two siblings were found dead following a fire in their apartment....Stab wounds were found on the 43-year-old woman, her 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, they said.

The oldest son, who had several knives, was initially arrested on suspicion of violating the Firearm and Sword Control Law but faces murder charges, police said

Story here.

It is amazing what reactions and emotional over-reaction the extremely rare murder by a firearm causes, but the common murder by knife causes barely a blip in the news and nothing from the political class. Do you think Fukuda will comment on this? Let's see.

Have Japanese politics really changed?

When I was in college, the details of Japanese politics were a lot more interesting to me than they are now. One of the surprises for most of us at that time was when one of our professors---Dr. Tsuritani,---who was head of the Political Science Dept., told us that Diet debates were all scripted; the outcome was decided in behind the scenes negations between the parties prior to the public debates. Of course back then, it was also acknowledged that factions within the LDP made all sorts of obscure deals and power-sharing decisions.

I don't read or hear much about that anymore. Factions, we were led to believe were weakened or destroyed by Koizumi. Well, now we are hearing more about them, so maybe not. The scripted, arranged "debates? I have no way of knowing as the Japanese press surely isn't going to investigate that. Non-Japanese commentators don't mention it either. It seems that most have decided that Japan is now following a different path in politics. Japan, after being "at a crossroads" at some time in the past dropped all of former PM Tanaka's "reforms" and has become something more familiar and easily recognizable.

Strangely enough, I rarely meet a Japanese citizen who believes any such thing. Many even considered Koizumi just another version of the same old LDP fixer. Although it seems that a lot of folks have very little interest in, or faith in, politics and politicians here, I do occasionally speak to people who are interested and who appear to be quite knowledgeable. They read about what going on, both at present and what went on in the past and seem quite well-informed.

Even among those few people, I have yet to hear any of them swallow the belief that things have changed significantly if at all. Tanaka's old ideas are still here, but perhaps more in the background than even before, or exist only to a slightly lesser degree than before. The outside has changed, but like so many things in Japan, the substance; the reality has remained the same.

R. Taggart Murphy, who wrote at least two of the better books on the Japanese economy (Japan's Policy Trap and The Weight of the Yen) observed that many in the US made the mistake of looking at a Japanese bank as being the same as an American bank when it was not at all. The whole philosophy and purpose was different. I suspect the same thing continues to go on concerning Japanese politics.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

There is Japan and there is foreign and no other distinctions

Oh, there might be a Japan and then an America in some ways---often people actually mean the US when they talk about the West or foreign, but generally there seems to be no distinction when it comes to foreign. One barely read a single article, either in English or Japanese where this sort of myth, does not exist:

Though this may sound trite, many critics have said in the past that the major difference between Japanese and foreign artists is their approach to their creative process. To put it bluntly, Japanese artists are often super-organized where many foreign ones have celebrated being messy. Western artists find this "process over product" philosophy awe-inspiringly "Zen" and ritualistic. JTOnline by MANAMI OKAZAKI.

So, Chinese and French and Bangladeshi artists are all the same, but Japan and only Japan is unique. Uniquely unique. Notice how "foreign" morphs into "Western" at the end. And of course, the Westerners are all fascinated by the Zen-ness of it all. Interestingly, all of the Japanese artists interviewed for the article disassociated themselves and their art from Japan or Japanese-ness. Okazaki, using unnamed and mysterious "many critiques" as the source, came up with the dichotomy between Japan and all else. And notice this: The article is about Japanese artists in New York, but in the end it is still the non-Japanese who are "foreign."

Must resist the urge to vomit. Must.

Government takes action against dastardly foreign airlines

The Japanese government has finally taken steps to protect the safety and purity of Japan's airspace from unsafe, poorly maintained---and most importantly---non-Japanese airlines in Japan. In addition to fingerprinting all non-Japanese passengers who, being non-Japanese, are potential terrorists, these aircraft will be subject to greater scrutiny:

The safety measures officer, who would be part of the Civil Aviation Bureau, would be tasked with gathering information about non-Japanese carriers and liaising with aviation safety officials of other countries, the sources said. Full story.

The government has not yet set up a similar office to watch Japanese airlines, even though recently JAL* and others have had some rather troublesome safety issues,

Japanese airlines reported 159 incidents of parts falling off aircraft during the year to March 31, up from 96 reported the previous year, a transport ministry survey made available Sunday showed.

or other problems:

Japan Airlines Corp. said Friday it has been selling Hugo Boss-brand wallets and commuter pass holder sets made in China as having been made in Italy on domestic flights since Oct. 1.

Three employees of a Japan Airlines Corp. cleaning subsidiary are suspected of stealing digital cameras and other items left on planes by passengers, aviation industry sources said Wednesday.

nor have they set one up for Japanese automakers even after wheels falling off Mitsubishi trucks and killing mothers or after Mistusbishi was caught hiding vehicle defect data. They have not yet set up a watchdog/inspection system for Japanese food products even after a solid year of scandals concerning mislabeled and expired food being sold by previously prestigious food producers.

There is no need for that of course, because those problems are Japanese problems and not evil like foreign things.

*JAL was put on a ministry watch list in 2005 for a string of mishaps and was subject to more inspection until 2006:

The transport ministry said Thursday it will subject the Japan Airlines Group to special safety inspections through the end of the year, following a spate of safety-related problems involving the nation's largest carrier.

There is a slight difference---only the airline with that string of problems was subject to increased inspections and only temporarily. All non-Japanese airlines will be subject to them no matter the safety record, and it appears that this will be permanent.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The history of fingerprinting legal residents in Japan

Just to refresh the memory of some who do not know that Japan used to routinely force all non-citizen residents to give their fingerprints every 3 years (In case them thar dastardly foreigners changed their fingers in order to do evil.) Kathleen Morikawa who was one of the original fingerprint refusers has written an article in the Japan Times on the history of this issue. It will not convince the naive who swallow anything as long as the government can say it's for security, nor will it convince the hopeless useful idiot class. It is a good, basic review of the issue. There was more to it than this, especially the forced fingerprinting of Korean residents in Japan. I have to admire the balls that it took to refuse (or ovaries). I wonder if push comes to shove, how many of us would do so again? And if we did, would it have any effect with the US actually pushing this sort of nonsense thereby making it easier for countries whose xenophobic leaders have no problem with discrimination to do so.

....Well, it was a long, hard slog but we finally got fingerprinting abolished. I am now of the "obasan" generation, and what do you know? My prints are in demand once again and down in Kanto the old, yellow index-finger balloon of the 1980s protests has been resurrected.

One would have to be utterly devoid of a sense of humor not to find something ridiculously ironic about all this. As an American, it is all the more ironic as the recent actions of my own government have created the atmosphere that has allowed Japan to so easily reintroduce mandatory fingerprinting.

What can we learn from the experiences of the past 25 years, aside from the fact that without constant vigilance the rights we fight so hard to win can be very easily lost? Full article.

But every country does it or might maybe do it. It's for security. It's ok.
“Tokyo has two faces. One is the one everyone knows: the economic power, the bright, shining place where all the political power gathers and all the people of strength come together,”....
....“But there’s another face, the place where ordinary people live. They can’t take part in the beautiful Tokyo – it’s kind of scary to thembut this is the Tokyo I write about.” Novelist Miyuke Miyabe:

I almost never read fiction, but this actual sounds interesting. A view of Tokyo/Japan that is not the normal Western fantasy land or neo-bushidoist delusion.

Her new novel, The Devil’s Whisper, will be her fifth translated into English. I suspect it will be more interesting and certainly more valuable than wasting one's time and money on Fujiwara Masahiko's nonsensical rant.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Japanese Cuisine, 2007

Japanese cuisine is some of the most delicious food in the world. I need not prove that, I just follow the neo-Bushidoist Fujiwara's brilliant theory of logic (or Japanese non-logic according to ol' Barcode head): It is because it is.

However, in 2007 there were numerous scandals related to food in Japan. The Japan Times in Tokyo Confidential has an interesting article by Michael Hoffman on that:

From "a certain chicken farmer," Asahi Geino hears this: "Of all the chicken on the Japanese market" — we're talking roughly 1.69 million tons of poultry per year — "at most 1 or 2 percent are genuine jidori. The rest that go by that name are fake." Read more.

Let's hope it isn't really true, but Japan is also the country in which more Blue Mountain coffee is sold than is imported. So, would it really be a surprise if the story is true?

Shinagawa Slasher

Another violent attack. Fortunately, nobody was killed. Fortunately, the criminal suspect did not use a firearm, but a knife. That's why this was not huge news. A mere stabbing which is unusual only because it was in public. Much more Japanese and much less foreign than using a firearm I suppose.

A 16-year-old high school boy armed with two kitchen knives slashed several people on a crowded shopping street in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on Saturday afternoon, injuring two and terrorizing dozens of new year shoppers near Togoshi Ginza Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line, police said...

Perhaps we can claim that his motives were foreign as no Japanese would think like this:

"I wanted to kill everybody. I did not care who they were," police quoted the youth as saying after his arrest.

Full story here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Japan Times reporter does not unnerstan' Japan

Kaori Shoji, a reporter with a seemingly Japanese name, does not seem to understand Japan, let alone the mysterious Orient:

It took a long time for me to recover from the blast of bullsh*t Orientalism that was "Memoirs of a Geisha." There were the usual symptoms: nausea, shaky hands and an attack of shudders every time I passed by the Oriental Bazaar on Tokyo's Omotesando avenue, among others...

..."Silk" is drenched with the kind of East Asian imagery that we in East Asia only experience in NHK dramas that you watch alongside grandparents... and a deep down, hopeful belief that these things still exist over here.

Full article here. Don't know how she felt about the classic "Last Samurai."

Where's Michael Moore?

The doctor will see the moneyed and insured, but less fortunate also ail

Hirata said his facility is not intended solely for the wealthy, but because of its location, most of its foreign patients are employees of Japanese units of foreign financial companies and are well-insured.

Those without insurance sometimes pay the full charge in cash, he said. In fact, all uninsured patients are required to pay ¥30,000 as a deposit and to cover the first consultation fee.

"I'm afraid we cannot provide our service to those who cannot afford the payment," Hirata explained. Full story at the Japan Times Online.

Oh, no! In Japan's socialized health care system? Why, even it is becoming foreign! An even bigger problem is that of emergency patients dying while ambulance crews desperately search for a hospital which will accept them. Usually it's something like, "Oh, we are too busy" or "We haven't enough doctors," or even "He/she may have a contagious disease," so they are basically left to die in an ambulance. For example, the latest case.

Uniquely unique Japanese good service

How nice to have had over a week off without focusing or even concerning myself much with news or anything else except hobbies and relaxing. Few crowded trains, not being coughed and sneezed on, not listening to constant sniffling, not much of being pushed and shoved....

Which for some reason brings me to the exaggerated reputation of politeness and good service in Japan.

It can be enlightening to leave big cities as often as possible and go to smaller towns and rural areas. And when visiting there, the "Japanese good service" can take on a different meaning.

We went to the mountains near Nikko and Chuzenjiko for a few days. In Chuzenjiko---a major tourist spot---we decided to have lunch on Saturday. We were a bit early and it was during the New Year holidays, so only a few places were open. Since 99% of the open restaurants were serving only soba, ramen, and yuba, we decided to go into one specializing in mushroom tempura.

We walked in and the old man sitting at a table seemed a bit surprised to see us, but he got up and told us to take a seat anywhere. I noticed that the cushions on the bench seats were sorta slightly filthy. Let me rephrase that: They were plain, flat filthy. I wondered how we could leave without causing offense, but ended up quietly sitting down at one of the tables. Been here way too long.

Ol' grampa then brought us a dirty menu and explained it. As we were deciding what to order, he told us what to order. To avoid trouble and confusion, we followed most of his advice.

He shouted the order into his kitchen staff which appeared to be his wife and maybe his daughter-in-law. Then he brought us two tea cups and a large thermos from another table and said, "Help yourself." Now "Help yourself" might be OK in some places or when visiting someone's home, but it just ain't heard often in Tokyo in a restaurant. My wife also noted that the thermos was a design from at least 20 years ago. As we waited for our order, we began to notice other small details, such as a thick layer of grease and grime all over everything. The case with the chopsticks was especially impressive in that way. I fished some out from the bottom assuming that they would be less decorated with said grease and grime.

Our lunch came about 10 minutes later and he told us how to eat it. Dip the tempura into salt he said, pointing out a grimy salt shaker. No choice of dipping sauce as is common in more citified areas.

A few minutes later, the old boy suddenly jumped up from his table and shouted to someone outside, "Welcome, please come in and take a break,. " Then he rushed outside to get them.

He returned with two women with children. As they entered, they paused and looked over the room. I knew what they were thinking, but before they could act on it, grampa guided them to a table and sat them down. They did not seem enthusiastic. Neither did grampa once he had his victims inside and was sure that they would not escape.

A few moments later, the same thing happened. This time, there was a shout from one of the women in the kitchen: "Welcome, please come in." Grampa chimed in, "Take a rest here," and rushed out to prevent their escape.

He returned with a young family with 3 kids. They displayed the same hesitation and desire to flee upon looking over the place, but like everyone else, they meekly followed grampa's commands and sat down. This family was shoved into a separate room with tatami and seated on the floor. Except for the kids, nobody in the family seemed happy.

Grampa had ignored us since he dumped our dishes in front of us. We had finished and were trying to pay and get out, but this was a bit troublesome to grandpa, because he had done his part. He just said "Pay over there," pointing to his daughter-in-law chef cum cashier.

The meal itself was not bad and we did not get sick. However my wife thought it was quite entertaining. "What was that? Did you see how he kidnapped people? What kind of dirty place? Can you believe he just told us 'Here you are, pour it yourself'?'"

Actually, what is hard to believe is that a restaurant with service like that could survive, or that it could pass any health inspection. But it obviously works well enough, because few people here will just walk out after being conned into the place. I didn't either. I, like Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai, am becoming Japanese. More Japanese than the Japanese--like Tom.

Unfortunately, I am turning Japanese at the same time that Japan is becoming a foreign country.